Power Does Not Corrupt

Photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash

I was a child when I first learned about power.

Almost automatically, you, the reader, are expecting me to tell about some horror that happened to me, some wound I received at someone else’s hands: something that left a lifelong scar on my soul.

But you don’t learn about power by experiencing the lash of someone else’s power. No, when you have no power, you experience only fear. To experience power you must have it.

My older cousin once showed me that you can take a magnifying glass (like the one that came for free as a Cracker Jack toy) and use it to focus sunlight. Find just the right distance between the glass and a surface and you could light fires. Which I did, of course. It was late fall, and I took a few russet leaves, arranged them on the sidewalk, and started to subject their dry surfaces to my death ray. I focused the sun into a tiny orb of fire, and traced the fiery lines from one leaf to the other, creating a small fire.

Then I saw a group of ants just a foot or so away. I was still a child, and so I shifted my body on the concrete, hovered over them and focused my beam on one of my choosing. I don’t really recall what I was expecting, but I was startled to see the ant react by rolling onto its back and flailing it’s legs for just a brief fraction of a second, until it exploded in flame like the head of a match. I did the same to one or two more ants, and then I noticed the agitated scurrying about of the others.

I was delighted with the power I had. I was Godzilla. I could kill at whim. I studied the remaining ants, while I still held the instrument that could summon the sun’s fire. There were dozens of little ants, each racing first in one direction, then the other. They knew terror, and I knew they were ignorant of its nature.

This was around the time my Catholic School nun was teaching us about the “Age of Reason.” Nominally it was 7 years of age. The Age of Reason named the age at which a child develops the knowledge of right and wrong, and, as such, they’d be accountable for their actions. The nuns were careful to note that we were now old enough to sin.

My childhood ended in those few moments on the sidewalk, because I knew I had done wrong. I saw myself as one of the terrified ants and realized they had no awareness of what was happening, or why; or what instinct they could draw on to deliver them from the terror that was all around them. I shifted my magnifying glass, not to burn, but to see more closely their chaotic racing. I studied them through my glass, and I studied myself, realizing that I was as small as they were when I measured myself against the world. Like them, I was ignorant of what frightened me. I remember nightmares. I remember shaking on the floors of dark closets.

When I rose from the sidewalk, I was a new soul. When I knew I was the source of the ant’s terror, I knew there was a source of mine, and that just as I felt satisfied at sparing the ants, I could be spared too. They say that power corrupts, but that is only partially true. You see, my soul was born in the tension between the power I had, and the power I was subject to. I could kill, but I could be spared.

I am but a shard of glass in the world. I am but the focus of God’s holy power.

I pray each and every day; this was today’s.

Retired software developer, husband, father. Student of history. Met Fan

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